Anxious America

Everyone has had that feeling in the pit of their stomach. Did I remember to lock the door? Am I going to be able to pay the bills on time? Will I get sick before the big presentation? Is something bad about to happen? These questions are the result of uncertainty which transforms into anxiety. Unlike fear, it is a general state that follows you day in and day out. Anxiety can change behavior and destroy lives.

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of psychiatric illness with 40 million American adults being affected by them, 18% of the population. One out of every four Americans will deal with an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. The specific disorders range from General Anxiety Disorder to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Some of the general symptoms include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
  • Nightmares
  • Problems sleeping
  • Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Inability to be still and calm
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tension

The most acute form of anxiety, Panic Disorder, affects 6 million U.S. adults and involves brief of sudden attacks of intense terror and apprehension, also called panic attacks. The fear is so acute that it causes physical distress, such as shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing. People develop an acute awareness of any change in normal body function and sometimes feel like they are having a heart attack. The distress is so acute that sufferers of Panic Disorder often develop a lasting fear of future attacks. This can lead them to avoid places or situations where panic attacks have happened in the past and dramatically alter their behavior.

Women are twice as likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder as men. A study by Dr. Rita Valentino of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that neurons in male rats reacted differently than in female rats when exposed to a hormone that induces stress. Some of the receptors in the male neurons retreated to within the cells to make the neuron less reactive to the hormone. This did not happen in female neurons. If the process is also found in humans, it can provide new insight into the physiological nature of anxiety and gender differences in coping with it.

Treatments for anxiety disorders range from medication to psychotherapy. A particularly useful version of psychotherapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This analyzes how your thoughts and behaviors contribute to anxiety. A person is then able to change their way of thinking and acting to better cope with stressful situations. The underlying premise is that it is not the situation, but our perception of the situation that leads to anxiety. In other words, how we think is how we feel.

Anxiety, whether it is clinical or the wages of a normal life, has a profound impact on a person’s behavior. Our fears, rational or not, can prevent us from living the lives we truly desire. This can, however, be overcome. By changing the way we view the world, our responses to events change. Once a full perspective is achieved, tomorrow doesn’t seem so scary after all.

Additional Resources

Forbes Our Most Common Fears:

Financial Highway 7 Most Common Money Fears:

Web MD Anxiety & Panic Disorders:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America:

Medical News Today, Anxiety:

National Institute of Mental Health, Anxiety Disorders:

The New York Times, Extinguishing the Fear at the Roots of Anxiety:

Help Guide, Therapy for Anxiety Disorders:


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